DALLAS — Most Oklahoma public schools lack adequate storm shelters to protect students from tornadoes and other disasters, according to a survey conducted by a state representative seeking $500 million of state bonds for school safety.
The survey commissioned by Rep. Joe Dorman found more than 62% of the 1,800 public schools in Oklahoma had no refuge or safe area of any kind. Of the 695 schools with a safety area, 271 are designed to withstand winds of 250 miles per hour or more.
Dorman backs a proposed initiative effort to put a constitutional amendment authorizing $500 million of state bonds for public school shelters on the November 2014 ballot.
Dorman proposed a similar bond-financed shelter program at the end of the 2013 Legislative session, but it was not considered.
"It is absolutely unacceptable that Oklahoma lawmakers have failed to address the safety of students and teachers in our public schools," Dorman said when he released the survey Sept. 27.
"It is reprehensible to think that every day the state fails to act on placing storm shelters in public schools, we put the lives of more than a half a million children, teachers and school staff in peril," he said.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is reviewing the wording of the petition asking Gov. Mary Fallin to call a statewide election on the storm bond proposal.
Proponents would have 90 days to obtain signatures of more than 155,000 voters if the petition effort is accepted.
Adding safe rooms to the 1,109 schools without a shelter would cost $740 million to $880 million, Dorman said. Most districts could incorporate the shelter construction into their current five-year capital plans, he said.
Seven students were killed in May when a tornado struck their elementary school in Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb. There were no shelters at either of the two schools leveled by the storm.
The bonds would be supported by Oklahoma's business franchise tax, which currently generates about $40 million a year.
All 517 school districts in Oklahoma responded to the shelter survey.
Gov. Mary Fallin said she would call the bond election if the petition drive is successful, but she opposes a state-funded program supported by the franchise tax.
Dedicating the tax to a specific purpose would divert revenue from the general fund needed to fund education and health care, she said.
Building hundreds of shelters would be an expensive effort, said Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz.
"If the people of Oklahoma are asked on a ballot initiative to support the project, they are really being asked to spend less on other important initiatives, including, possibly, those that benefit the safety and well-being of Oklahoma's children," Weintz said.